Smoothies and smorgasbords: impressions on the EFA Conference, Chicago, 2019
As the sole proprietor of Steel Pencil Editorial, I hesitated to attend two conferences in a year. But my desire for professional development, the ease of traveling to Chicago (an inexpensive overnight Amtrak trip from Pittsburgh), and the great camaraderie with other editors convinced me to attend the Editorial Freelancers Association national meeting this August 2019 (EFACon19). I was not disappointed. I share with you here my impressions of the meeting. Keep in mind that there were concurrent sessions that I could not attend. Being only one person, I was sad that I could not feast on this editorial smorgasbord and hear every presenter.
Venue and conference structure
EFACon19 entertained a smaller crowd than did the American Society for Editing national conference in Providence, RI, in April 2019. But considering ACES2019 boasted 700-plus folks, the EFA crowd of a few hundred was a less overwhelming but nonetheless generous sampling of editorial freelancers. The Swissôtel offered a comfortable venue in a gorgeous location in the Loop, though the rooms weren’t cheap. The conference rooms weren't as overflowing as they were at ACES2019, but they were full for the sessions I attended.
Included in the conference fee were two breakfasts and one lunch. I especially appreciated the inclusion of breakfast. Attendees didn’t need to worry about grabbing breakfast somewhere else, and the three shared meals (with attendees seated at round tables in the main large banquet room) afforded easy opportunities to network. Coffee and tea were available all day long, and midmorning snacks (smoothies, wow!) and afternoon snacks (granola bars and chips) kept the body happy. These amenities help forestall the fatigue that often creeps in as the intense sessions and busy schedule start taking their toll.
Keynotes were offered after both breakfasts. The first keynote speaker, Louise Harnby, energized the crowd on Thursday with her upbeat, helpful take on establishing a personal brand. She reminded us that showing authors how we can help them, rather than merely creating a punch list of qualifications, is a far better way to establish trust with them and any other potential client. The old “show, don’t tell” saw of writing applies to our own marketing plans. (Louise's comments made me rethink how I sometimes tweet complaints about editing; maybe I’m not showing the supportive editorial image I’d like to convey to potential clients.)
The second session I attended was Getting Started with Macros. Since I presented this session, I’ll leave it to others to evaluate this. There were lots of questions from the roughly 40 attendees, so there is definitely interest in using this powerful Word tool.
The third session, How to Successfully Freelance with a Disability or Health Concern (Molly McCowan, Christina Frey, Antonn Park, and Ebonye Gussine Wilkins), mainly focused on often-invisible conditions (at the session's request, I won't list the conditions discussed). Although I don’t have a visible or invisible disability, I was interested in finding out more for a couple of my colleagues who deal with this issue daily. The panelists described a variety of approaches people might take to address their health concerns. While one person said they had stopped tracking their time, for example, another said they had recently begun tracking time, as a coping mechanism. Some attendees mentioned following a strict structure to cope with anxiety; others used more relaxed approaches to scheduling. People described different approaches to telling clients about their health concerns. Some people never mention them, and other folks let their clients know up front.
Guiding Your Clients to Successfully Self-Publish, by Ally Machate, offered lots of tips for working with indie authors. She explained that these authors are usually extra cautious about hiring someone, as they are often the target of publishing scams. Potential editors should be aware that these authors might be wary of your initial efforts to woo them. Ally listed word of mouth, speaking gigs, free consultations, blog writing, and networking as some ways to develop trust with independent authors. She talked about the huge amount of misinformation that editors need to battle. For example, the media focuses on remarkable successes, which are, of course, outliers. Unfortunately, these stories produce unrealistic expectations among many self-publishing authors. Ally’s “secrets” to successful self-publishing included good content (romance sells the best right now); an active, visible online presence; and the recognition that achievement takes time. She recommended that you tell your authors to think of their book as a product (not “their baby”), and she summarized the steps that any indie author must take before publishing.
I attended only two posters during the Poster Sessions. Mark Allen’s presentation on recent changes in AP style was well received and, I think, was a good format to present this useful information. I also visited the MasterMind poster by Amy Schneider and Lori Paximadis. It was inspiring to hear about all the ways Amy, Lori, and their other long-distance editorial colleagues get together, both in physical meet-ups and in virtual retreats.
Friday’s keynote, by Marilyn Schwartz, described the evolution of the Copyeditor’s Handbook. She summarized the changes since the first edition of the book by the late Amy Einsohn. She spoke of her relationship with Amy (from acquisitions editor to, eventually, coauthor) over the years. I enjoyed hearing how editors of a certain age (like yours truly) learned on the job through mentorship, whereas many of today’s new editors take courses and can be professionally certified.
Rights and Permissions, by Caitlin O’Brien, was a treasure trove of information about the many tasks involved in securing permissions or rights (shorthand: “perms”) for any published material. Despite all the legalese and administrative hoops that perms people need to attend to, the overarching intent of perms is “honoring others’ creative efforts with humanity, empathy, and integrity.” The amount of time needed to procure perms depends on many factors, including amount of material and its nature (e.g., academic versus pop culture) and can range from weeks to years. Caitlin's presentation was eye-opening for any editor. She explained the idea of fair use (which can have sometimes-surprising meaning). For example, for poetry, a line or two can require perms, whereas a couple lines from a very long novel might not. Interestingly, song titles never require perms, but lyrics to a song—even as few as a couple words? “Forget it,” said Caitlin. In other words, perms for song lyrics can be exceedingly difficult—and slow—to obtain.
Lori Paximadis’s Systems and Shortcuts felt like shadowing a well-organized, experienced editor in her office for a few weeks to observe how she organizes things and makes sure the multiple aspects of editing get done. Lori spoke of “pilers” and “filers” and said that you need to follow what works for your type of personality. Pilers might forget something if it is filed away. Filers might feel overwhelmed if they leave everything in piles. Along with describing how she organizes her own workload and work flow, she spoke of the importance of a Hit by a Bus plan (ways others can access your work information if you should become incapacitated or pass away). She also recommended thinking about your equipment's demise beforehand, so that you aren’t scrambling last minute when your laptop dies or your printer becomes obsolete.
As I grabbed a ride to Union Station for my trip home, I thought back to the ideas I had gained, the old friends I reconnected with, and the new folks I enjoyed meeting. Chicago graced us with gorgeous skies and mild temperatures for August. Lunch on Lake Michigan with colleagues felt like a microvacation. Yes, we editorial types are often shy. But when among "our people," we often blossom in the warmth of our shared love of words.